Bluffton Blueprint

How do you prepare the next generation of students for a future that will be different than anyone can imagine?

Bluffton Blueprint illustrationAt Bluffton University, the answer is through the Bluffton Blueprint—four foundational courses, one for each year of college, which create a core of resiliency for the next generation of Bluffton students.

Featuring both traditional classroom learning and experiential components, the Bluffton Blueprint starts with The Great Adventure, a fall break retreat focused on the mind, body and spirit, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. These experiences will push students to look at their majors and futures in unexpected ways.

From changing careers to moving across the country, the Bluffton Blueprint provides a framework for the challenges that come with life and, ultimately, for their greater purpose.

Beyond the traditional college experience

Each course within the Bluffton Blueprint aligns with one of Bluffton’s enduring values—Discovery, Community, Respect and Service. These courses, as part of the Bluffton University Enduring Values General Education program, will allow students to see how different groups of people come together to create positive change. The experiential components will also prepare students for their future in ways that go beyond developing specific skills in their major. The Bluffton Blueprint, according to Dr. Lamar Nisly, vice president and dean of academic affairs, moves forward the concept of the traditional college experience.

“We hope this is going to be learning like students have never before experienced,” said Dr. Nisly. “Students will gain significant insight as they go through the program that will push them into contexts where they encounter people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. Those experiences will set them up well as they move into the world.”

Skillsets for success

While the Bluffton Blueprint is new, the knowledge and support that comes with a Bluffton education has helped alumni for nearly 120 years position themselves for change. Some of the blueprint courses, including the senior capstone, have been part of Bluffton’s general education program for years. However, the strength of those courses combined with the new experiences will advance the benefits of a Bluffton education in a whole new way.

“I knew community was important when I came to Bluffton, but I’ve come to appreciate the true richness of this community,” said President Jane M. Wood, Ph.D. “That community facet of Bluffton works well with the experiential learning pieces that we are developing. It’s the part of our students’ education that will ground them for all the changes that come with life.”

What then shall we do?

Throughout their four years, students will be challenged to reflect on a different question about themselves in relation to the enduring value, course topic and experience presented each year. As students make their way to their senior year, the question intentionally moves from an individual reflection to a look at their collective role in the wider world.

The final question, “What then shall we do?” is the same question John the Baptist is challenged to answer in Luke 3:10-14.


The Great Adventure

Surrounded by the vast natural beauty and immensity of the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, The Great Adventure, a fall break retreat for all first-year Bluffton University students, provides the opportunity to reflect on the big questions in life. Who am I? What is my truth? What values do I live by?

The Great Smoky Mountains will be the location for the first-year student experience.

Starting during fall break in 2020, The Great Adventure will help Bluffton's first-year students grow closer to each other, discover themselves as individuals and explore their understanding of God.

While the experience is still being developed, some key components have already been determined.

Students will be asked to reflect on who they are and where they want to go in life. “We want them to imagine that trajectory and make plans so they can dream big but be grounded in reality,” explained Dr. Lamar Nisly, vice president and dean of academic affairs. “We will ask them to map out the steps they need to take to reach those goals.”

Dr. Randy Keeler, associate dean of academic affairs, is working on plans for the students to challenge themselves physically and mentally through an “adventure activity.”

“We place limits on ourselves, but we want our students to challenge and confront their fears so they can open up new ways of imagining who they will become,” explained Keeler.

Finally, an overarching spiritual component will help students envision how faith can be central to their larger vision. And while many students come to Bluffton with a faith background, Nisly says some do not, but “we all ask the bigger questions in life.”


Learning in Community

Through hands-on community partnerships, developed specifically for this class, students will get an early look at how they can make a difference in their field of study.

 Representatives of the Lima community and Bluffton University plan the sophomore year experience.

The Bluffton-Lima Connection

In 1969, associate professor of sociology John McCartney led an interterm that brought Bluffton students to nearby Lima, Ohio, to study the city’s economic struggles. Forty years later, professor of history Dr. Perry Bush published “Rust Belt Resistance,” a look into both the struggles and resilience of Lima. Over the years, dozens of Bluffton students have completed internships in the community, alumni have become Lima residents, and many are now leading major agencies and non-profits in the region.

Now, Bluffton University and the City of Lima are connecting in a new and meaningful way through Learning in Community.

“With this class, I think we’re on the forefront of helping students early in their college career understand multiple ways they can have an impact in the world, ” said Dr. Walt Paquin, director of social work and the outreach coordinator for the class. “Gen Z wants to give back. They want to apply their learning. This class will help students move outside of the classroom and into the community.”

A new way to learn

In developing the partnerships, Paquin found that colleges and universities routinely implement service-learning components into their coursework, but what Bluffton is developing, is unique.

“To have students across various majors spend an entire semester studying community, being engaged in one particular community and completing internship type work in that community is something I haven’t found. We really are building something, ” explained Paquin, who has spent the past year developing relationships in Lima. So far, 11 agencies have committed to partnering with Bluffton. Six of the agency liasons are Bluffton alumni.

Coming together for a community

The class will be taught by a team of professors in a range of disciplines. Paquin, Bush and Dr. Darryl Nester, professor of math, will serve as the main core. Data analytics will be a major component, as well as a piece where students get practical work experience at the partner agencies. Lima’s city administration is one of the key partners.

“I think all parties will benefit from this. I think students will benefit, the university will benefit and certainly the community and individual agencies and organizations will benefit,” explained David Berger, mayor of Lima, who elaborated on the value to students.

“I think for many students the connection between what they’re studying and what they will be doing in practical terms is sometimes difficult to make. Actually being active in some internship or co-op experience helps ground
their studies in ways that I think can either inspire those studies or change those studies,” said Berger. “It can help sharpen a person’s interests and hopefully make their academic pursuits even richer.”

The class will be piloted during the spring 2020 semester and will be fully integrated into the general education program for the class of 2023.


Cross-Cultural Experience

A pivotal element of a Bluffton education, cross-cultural experiences are explorations for growth and new understandings. They offer a journey of personal discovery into the richness and challenges of other cultures and communities.

Bolivia 2019
Botswana 2019
Kentucky 2019
Chicago 2019
Israel/Palestine 2019

Designed for contemporary learning

While cross-cultural study has been a fixture at Bluffton for decades, it became a pivotal element of the general education curriculum in 1995. These experiences are foundational to developing Bluffton students into well-rounded, globally-minded citizens, and are often described by participants as life-changing.

“Coming into this I had little knowledge about the meanings of the words service and culture, but I now know the true meaning of both of those words whole heartedly,” said Nick Taflinger ’21, a business administration major from Lima, Ohio, who went to Appalachia. “I’m thankful for the opportunity.”

While exploring eastern Kentucky, students work with SWAP (Serving with Appalachian People), a Mennonite Central Committee program that serves low-income families. Students become acquainted with families whose homes are being repaired by students while also learning about the social and environmental effects of the coal mining industry and other challenges faced by residents of the region.

Other students who took part in a domestic experience traveled to Chicago and stayed at the Olive Branch Mission, a homeless shelter on the south-side of the city, to better understand the social, racial and economic struggles low-income families face in an urban environment.

From individual to global citizen

Internationally, students traveled this May to Bolivia, a land challenged by poverty but blessed with natural resources and breathtaking beauty; Botswana, where students learned how residents live, work and worship in a village very different from Bluffton; and Israel Palestine, where students visited significant biblical and historical sites while learning about religious
and political conflicts in the Middle East.

“Going to Botswana was so overwhelming and incredible. The only way I can describe it is indescribable. We made so many relationships and did things we never thought we would do!” said Jules Frazier ’21, a psychology and social work double major from Nova, Ohio. “This trip really changed us all and has helped me believe that I can do anything.”

More than 3,000 Bluffton alumni have studied in international and domestic locations. The majority of students undertake this challenge during a May-term experience following their junior year. However, some choose to immerse themselves in a new culture through semester experiences in Chicago, Washington, D.C., or abroad.

Bringing the bigger picture of a better world closer

Program destinations for the 2019-20 academic year include China: Culture in Transition; Germany and Central Europe: Focus on the Holocaust; Guatemala: Culture and History; Arizona: The Hopi, Navajo and Zuni; and Kentucky: Sharing with Appalachian People.


What then shall we do?

A student’s education comes full-circle during the final course in the Bluffton Blueprint, Christian Values in a Global Community, when students are challenged to answer the same question posed to John the Baptist.



Kiera Suffel

“At Bluffton, I learned more about and have come to appreciate the idea of service. I volunteered off-campus, on-campus and served as a leader in a club. Service is something we can practice throughout our lives no matter where we go.”
Kiera Suffel '19
Real estate marketing coordinator, Superior PLUS Realtors

Quincy Salcido

“When I first came here, I remember asking myself, ‘why are people so nice?’ I eventually realized that we attract the same energy we give off. The importance of building relationships and having positive mentors and friends is one of the most important things I discovered at Bluffton.”
Quincy Salcido ’19
Admissions counselor, Bluffton University

Chanhee Hwang

“I had never thought about conflicts on the other side of earth. I had never thought about hunger and poverty. I had never thought about federal government funding. Because of the Christian Values in a Global Community class, I have become more thoughtful on those issues.”
Chanhee Hwang ’19
Business administration major

Thomas Wagler

“Bluffton prepared me to go into the real world. All aspects of my university experience, from Forums to my extracurriculars, made me ready to move on and succeed. Being a first generation college student was scary at first but Bluffton removed that fear, and I graduated with confidence.”
Thomas Wagler ’19
Quality systems specialist, Wannemacher Enterprises

Hannah Brown

“Through the community I found at Bluffton, I have noticeably seen a growth spiritually, I have gradually learned how to break out of my introversion, and my capacity for compassion has expanded immensely.”
Hannah Brown ’19
New York City Mennonite Voluntary Service, Xavier Mission